Monday, August 24, 2020

A Glimpse into Catholic Life in Ireland in the Early Sixties

Some weeks ago, a priest friend alerted me to the online archives of Radharc, “one of Ireland’s most important independent documentary production companies,” founded in 1959 and the producer of “over 400 documentaries which were screened on RTÉ, Ireland’s national broadcaster, between 1961 and 1996.” My correspondent was particularly interested in the short films made from 1961 to 1966, with two priests, Fr Peter Dunn and Fr Desmond Forristal, as the hosts. It should be noted—and this is a matter of surprise especially for Americans—that it did  not seem strange in any way for a public film project to be run by priests and to center so closely on religious and cultural matters (which were often the same).

Several of these films would be fascinating to NLM readers, so I shall comment on my favorites. There are many more worth exploring at the Irish Film Institute Radharc archive. (As the videos are not on YouTube, only still shots can be inserted here.)

The New Ritual

For an absolutely fascinating glimpse into Catholic life at the time of the opening of the Second Vatican Council, watch the seven-minute film from 1962 about “The New Ritual.” “New,” at this time, refers to the Tridentine sacramental rites done partly in Latin and partly in English. The film speaks as if this modest step is a sufficient response to modern needs.

As regular readers will know, I’m opposed to having so much vernacular in the traditional rites of the Church of Rome, but no one can deny that if what the video shows had been the only step taken towards liturgical reform, the faithful wouldn’t have been thrown into disarray and there would be a great deal more peace and unity in the Church today. The traditional movement as we know it would not exist were it not for the flagrant overreaching of the Consilium and the accompanying absolutism of Paul VI.

Most interesting to me is the interview at the end with an Irish liturgist who says: “Some people want the Foremass [Mass of Catechumens] in English, but the rest of the Mass—especially the Canon, the heart of the Mass—will remain in Latin.” He seems quite sincere in his assertion. How many, at this time, could have imagined what would be happening only a few short years later? (On this point, I recommend William Riccio’s fine article “Back to the Future? No Thanks, I’ve Been There,” in which he recounts, inter alia: “We were told the Canon, that most untranslatable prayer, would never be in the vernacular because it is too steeped in meaning. In 1967, it was put in the vernacular.”)

Sick Calls

This four-minute video was made in 1962, when the traditional rite of the sacrament of extreme unction was still being used by everyone. Today it is used by communities like the FSSP and the ICRSS, and, I would suppose, by individual diocesan priests who are familiar with it.

What a remarkable glimpse into how sick calls used to be done — and, please God, how they can and should still be done today!

Blessing the Airplane Fleet

Made in 1962, this film tells the viewer about Aer Lingus, Ireland’s national airline. Each plane is named after an Irish saint—and after showing us lots of examples, the film gives a quick history of Irish missionaries of old. (As far as I know, the Aer Lingus airplanes have retained their saint names to the present.) We get a tour of the primitive instrumentation panel of a Boeing. We see a priest blessing the fleet with holy water, and a Sunday Mass conducted in the hangar. We get to see the prayer card (I’m not kidding) that used to be included in every seat of an Aer Lingus plane, and a view of nuns wearing habits one would never see today.

In general, the people flying on the planes as well as those seeing them off are dressed impeccably. One would not have dreamed of going out in public any other way.

The Village with the Most Vocations

Another remarkable film concerns a village in rural Ireland that had a long history of high numbers of priestly and religious vocations. A fascinating glimpse into Irish village life in 1962: there’s not even a hint of the collapse that would come later.

All the explanations given about why this village’s vocations flourished are quite similar to the reasons we might give today for the greater number of vocations among traditional Catholics: hard-working family life, the family Rosary, the cheerfulness of the sisters, and a relatively simple life. The sisters don’t put pressure on the girls; certainly no “vocations office,” “discernment retreats,” or baby-faced agents.

The sisters depicted in this 1962 film left for good in 2016, after 151 years. Seduced by the “spirit of the Council,” they had become “Eucharistic ministers” and Lord only knows what else. Corruptio optimi pessima.

People often say to traditionalists: “If Catholicism was so great before the Council, why did it fall apart so quickly?” And I reply: “How well do you know yourself? There but for the grace of God go I…” We don't have to pretend that there were no problems before the Council (and Ireland surely had its problems too) to know that things were a far sight better than they were afterwards, when the spirit of rebellion had taken hold and churchmen couldn't throw off the shackles of commandments, customs, and cultural heritage quickly enough. Things can fall apart rapidly when we let fallen human nature take the driver’s seat. Look at the history of Israel, God’s chosen people. Look at the Church in various periods of her checkered history. It’s not as if we should be shocked. Greatness is a daily moral and spiritual conquest, and it can fall to pieces in a matter of years, months, even days. These objectors might as well pose their question to Our Lord: “If you are the Son of God, why did one of your Apostles betray you, and the others run away?” It was not the fault of Our Lord; and neither was the (post)conciliar apostasy the fault of the Catholic tradition built up over the ages by the Holy Spirit, sent to the God-loving disciples in the one and only Pentecost of the Church, which lasts until the end of the ages.

More recent articles:

For more articles, see the NLM archives: